In 2003, we left Trinidad, returned to Margarita for Bob to have further surgery on his eye, and then left Margarita for St. Croix. The 429-mile passage across open ocean from Margarita to St Croix took three days almost to the hour. It was a good trip for me; unfortunately Joan was seasick the entire time. For each of us, some parts of the trip were better than others.
Generally, when only two people are onboard, passages are a lonely journey since one is always sleeping while the other is on watch. Thanks to radar, GPS, laptop computer, Nobeltec navigation software, and the autopilot, standing watch is reduced to staying awake to monitor the instruments and watch for traffic and squalls on the radar. Radar is great for showing the size, direction of travel, and speed of squalls. You try to steer around them if you can or you shorten the sails to prepare for the sudden increase in wind.
Most days, I stayed on watch all day with Joan spelling me a couple hours for rest in the afternoon. At night, we do three hours on and three hours off. No matter how sick Joan gets, she always rises to the occasion when it's her turn on watch. Some times I wonder how, but I'm too tired at that point to think about it.
While I'm on watch, I brace myself into the aft leeward corner of the cockpit where I can see the radar and instruments and also ahead of the boat. Gravity holds me in place as the boat rocks and rolls. Because the autopilot is steering the boat, it is not necessary to sit behind the wheel. I may listen to music or sometimes books on tape with my headsets. Other times, I read. I wasn't always able to read without feeling nauseous but for some reason I got over it. This passage, I was able to listen to the Iraq war morning briefing on NPR/Armed Forces Radio. Sometimes, I just sit there and think. Occasionally, dolphins come by to visit and play in the boat's wake. At night, you first know they are around when the digital depth gauge goes from ---- which means over a 1000 feet deep to minus - 003.7, indicating there is something underneath the boat but above the keel. They seem to like to swim there. They dive out of the water, do their talking and blowing sounds, and dive again. No matter how many times I have seen them there, it's always fun to watch. At night, they leave a phosphorescent trail in the water, quite a show.
Joan eats and drinks very little while we are underway. I, on the other hand, am up more and eat more. Before we leave, Joan cuts celery, carrots, veggies, cheese, and grilled chicken breasts into finger-sized pieces and puts them in Ziploc bags. We stock yogurt, Gatorade, breakfast bars, Slimfast candy bars, and lots of fruit. I eat and drink well, but light.
Many cruisers, especially the French, drink alcohol while underway. Although we carry more booze and wine abroad than the average beach bar, I have never had the urge to drink while underway. I guess I fear that once the drink has me really relaxed, something will break and I will have to deal with it. Once we're anchored, I can get as mellow as the best of them. Even then, something can go wrong. For example, one afternoon at our own happy hour, or sundowner as some call it, I was enjoying a couple of gin and tonics while running the engine to charge the batteries. The engine alarm went off, announcing that the engine was overheating. We shut it down immediately and began trouble-shooting. I checked the raw water strainer but it was okay. Further investigation determined the problem had to be in the water intake outside and under the boat. So a little more than half in the bag, I donned my mask and fins and dove under the boat to get a look. I expected a plastic bag or other trash to be sucked into the engine cooling water intake, but I saw what appeared to be a spinney tennis ball. It was a baby puffer fish, which had blown up to keep from being sucked further into the intake. I tried to pull him out but he would not deflate so I had to cut him in half to get him out. Just imagine doing that while underway in ten foot seas, nearing shore at the end of a three day passage, even slightly inebriated.
Joan caught the only fish on the trip. At the first light of day on her watch, she realized that the waves breaking over the boat were not draining and the water was inching upward toward the cockpit. She discovered a 14 inch fish stuck vertically, head down, in one of the deck scuppers just outside the cockpit. A scupper is a five-inch hole in the deck where the seawater washed onto the deck drains over board. She pulled the fish out and tossed it overboard so the water could drain out.
At night, we wear inflatable ocean life jackets with a built-in harness and dual tethers to prevent us from being washed overboard in the event some unforeseen event like a rogue wave washes over the boat, a much smaller version of the Poseidon Adventure. The dual tether allows us to move around the cockpit and enter the cabin before unhooking completely. One tether is three feet long and the other is six feet. Once we are comfortably seated in the cockpit, we have both tethers attached. The shorter one keeps us tight in case we have an unexpected incident. Once in a while, a ten foot wave breaks on our beam and fills the cockpit momentarily with sea water. Quite a shock for the half asleep person on watch who is instantly drenched. It seems to happen mostly on Joan's watch. Just bad luck. There are also jack lines running the length of the deck on each side so, in the unlikely event we need to go outside of the cockpit, we can attach the tether to the jack line and not be washed overboard.
It has never been nor should it be necessary to go out on the deck at night since the controls for all three sails are in the cockpit. Usually, at least once during a night watch, you have to shorten the sails because a squall passes or the wind jumps from 15 knots to 30 knots and tries to push the boat over on her side. The person trying to sleep below is much more aware of the boat's actions since you can hear every sound as the hull flexes, twists, and creaks to the action of the waves and the sails and rigging react to the wind. It is a little unnerving until you become accustomed to the sounds. Then there is the sound made by a ten-foot wave breaking, hitting the side of the hull with a couple of tons of water, like getting broad-sided by a car. If you let your mind run wild, you're sure the boat is breaking up. Sometimes, while lying on your back, you can feel the boat's action in the pit of your stomach, the boat ascending a wave and being suspended in midair for a couple of nano seconds before it crashes back down into the water with a gigantic bang. We both have the necessary faith and trust that Viking Rose can handle much more than we can. I can't speak for Joan, but I personally seem to thrive on the thrill of it.
During a three day passage, you get all kinds of conditions. Sometimes it is blowing like snot and there is not a dry place to sit in the cockpit. Other times, it's so smooth you can fire up the grill to cook a freshly caught tuna and even open the cockpit table and have a leisurely dinner. Each passage is a different experience. We're always excited to leave a port and head out to another one, and just as excited when we arrive at the new port.